iRobot to commercialize endurance record-holding undersea robot

Published 17 June 2008

iRobot licenses endurance record-holder Seaglider from the University of Washington; Seaglider can operate at sea for months at a time in challenging conditions

Record-holding, ocean-observing robots which operate at sea for months at a time are to be commercially produced by iRobot under a licensing agreement with the University of Washington. iRobot, a U.S. company which makes robots for the consumer and military markets, secured the rights to build the Seaglider robots after negotiating a deal with the University’s technology transfer department. Seagliders, developed by the UW’s Applied Physics Laboratory and the School of Oceanography, have repeatedly set the world’s endurance record for autonomous underwater vehicles.

Two Seagliders deployed in the Labrador Sea operated on their own for more than seven months in 2004 and 2005, a record that still stands. In that time they travelled 2,325 miles through the sea. They have also been deployed in some challenging conditions, such as the intense Kuroshio Current, the world’s second strongest ocean current. The Kuroshio, like the Gulf Stream, is a western boundary current that acts as a conveyor belt carrying warm tropical waters north and clips along at 1 to 2 feet a second in some places. Together, they have amassed more than a dozen years of operating time, more sea time than any other autonomous underwater vehicle. A Seaglider can dive from the surface down 3,300 feet and back up every 3 to 9 hours. It remains at the surface long enough to transmit data it has collected, relay its position and receive instructions via a satellite phone network, before diving again.